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U of M & Mayo Clinic have their sights set on myelodysplastic syndrome

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Earlier this week, ABC's Robin Roberts announced she is battling myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease of the blood and bone marrow. In patients with MDS, the bone marrow keeps trying to make more blood cells to make up for a deficit, but many of these cells die before they make it into the blood stream. The condition is often treated with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.

MDS can be a scary condition for patients. More than 10,000 patients are diagnosed with the condition each year and 30 percent of those cases progress into acute leukemia. The condition can occur seemingly at random with few known causes.

For reasons still unknown, Minnesota owns the country's highest incidence rate of MDS. As a result, both the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic have made MDS research a priority, which spells good news for MDS patients across the country.

Together, the two institutions are taking the lead on the development of new tools to both diagnose and treat the condition.

Recently, U of M and Mayo researchers were awarded $1.35 million by the Minnesota Partnership to combat the disease. That grant comes on the heels of a five-year, $2.5 million grant awarded last year to U of M epidemiologist Julie Ross, Ph.D., and pediatric hematologist-oncologist Erica Warlick, M.D., to conduct the nation's first large scale epidemiologic study of MDS.

"There aren't many studies where we look at newly-diagnosed patients and follow them over time, so we've never truly investigated why people get MDS," said Ross. "Therefore we can't definitively say which patients will see their disease progress into leukemia. We want to take the speculation and shift it into fact, giving patients a better chance against the disease."

KSTP recently caught up with Warlick to learn more about MDS. You can watch that video here. For more on University of Minnesota research into MDS, visit cancer.umn.edu.

U of M researchers hope to raise breast cancer screening awareness via cell phone

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Technology has provided a host of ways to get information into the hands of an end user. Specifically, cell phones have opened up new doors for passing along information via text message or specialized alerts.

Now, U of M researchers from the School of Social Work, Masonic Cancer Center and Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health will receive $675,000 over three years from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to develop new ways to use cell phones to promote breast cancer screening to Korean women.

Hee Yun Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work and Masonic Cancer Center, will lead the project and Doug Yee, M.D., director of the Masonic Cancer Center, and Rahel Ghebre, M.D., assistant professor in both the Masonic Cancer Center and the Medical School's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health will act as co-investigators.

Congratulations to the researchers and we'll keep readers updated on the project as it moves forward.

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More women need breasts removed after brachytherapy

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Image: Fox News LogoWomen who got seed radiation as part of their breast cancer treatment were more likely to have an infection or breast pain. Todd Tuttle, Medical School, Masonic Cancer Center and University of Minnesota Physicians, discusses the advantages of Brachytherapy.

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U of M Expert Perspective: More data needed on brachytherapy for breast cancer

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Many cancer patients are familiar with brachytherapy. The approach delivers a small, targeted dose of radiation to a cancer site via irradiated seeds or pellets, and has been used for nearly 20 years with good results for patients battling prostate cancer.

But now, more and more women are turning to the procedure to treat their breast cancer. And according to new research from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, women may want to get all the facts before selecting the path that's right for them.

According to the new research, there was no difference in survival rates after breast cancer in women who chose brachytherapy or whole breast irradiation, but women who chose brachytherapy were more likely to undergo a mastectomy within five years of their initial cancer treatment.

The researchers point out, however, that the increase is slight: they estimate that for every 56 women treated with breast brachytherapy, 1 woman was harmed with unnecessary mastectomy.

According to University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center cancer surgeon Todd Tuttle, M.D., the research shouldn't necessarily scare women away from brachytherapy, but he stressed that more data may be needed to get the complete picture on the procedure as it relates to breast cancer.

"Although it's very attractive at first because you are potentially treating a lot less of the breast and you're doing it in a much shorter period of time, the benefits may not be there. In fact you may see more patients having long-term complications," he said. "Many surgeons are starting to think twice about this kind of therapy for a lot of women."

Tuttle notes that the medical community needs more data on the therapy before it should be considered alongside other types of therapy. Tuttle advises women to talk to their doctor before selecting the treatment approach that is right for them.

Read the full story from Reuters Health.

New carcinogen in smokeless tobacco identified

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Image: AHC LogoU of M researchers have identified a specific oral cancer-causing chemical in smokeless tobacco products, for the first time. Silvia Balbo, Masonic Cancer Center, explains some of the findings in her study.

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